10 signs you have a toxic boss (and what to do about it)

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We spend around one-third of our entire lives at work.

In fact, one survey by HP found 56 percent of people say they’re with their “work family” more than their real family.

That’s bad news if your boss is a bit of an ass.

A poor relationship with your manager can create stress, low job satisfaction, low morale, and less commitment to your job.

Do you have a toxic boss? And more importantly, what should you do about it?

Let’s find out…

How do I know if my boss is toxic?

1) They aren’t open to feedback or ideas

It’s really challenging to handle a boss who always thinks they are right.

A manager who closes themselves off from hearing employees’ suggestions points to a few negative things:

  • They are bad listeners
  • They are closed-minded
  • They have a fragile ego that can’t take critique
  • They have a “my way or the highway” approach

Companies thrive most when everyone contributes. That wide range of experience is really valuable.

When you feel like your thoughts, opinions, and ideas are not valued it can quickly strip you of your intrinsic motivation. As can the next thing on our list…

2) They don’t allow you to have any autonomy

Nobody wants to be micromanaged. You’re not at kindergarten anymore.

So it’s disheartening to be treated like a child who needs constant supervision.

Research has shown that in order to feel purposeful and fulfilled, we need a certain amount of autonomy in our working lives.

That’s not possible when your boss is constantly looking over your shoulders and trying to control everything you do.

3) They have a ‘do what I say, not do what I do’ attitude

It’s one rule for everybody else, but quite another for them.

They call you into their office to complain if you are 30 seconds late. Yet they will happily knock off early or take a leisurely lunch whenever it suits them.

Hypocrisy can be infuriating whenever your boss doesn’t practice what they preach. It strips away your respect for them in the process.

Some toxic bosses think that their position gives them entitlements that others cannot enjoy.

Whilst they watch you like a hawk, they don’t hold themself accountable.

4) They never hold their hands up to their mistakes

Another consequence of dodging self-responsibility is a refusal to admit to mistakes.

When they slip up they will side-step it.

They may ignore it completely, make excuses, or try to shift blame somewhere else entirely.

Because if there is one thing they excel at, it’s dishing out blame.

5) They are quick to find fault but never offer praise

A toxic boss uses the stick far more than the carrot.

What I mean is they are prompt (and even hasty) in putting you down or highlighting perceived failings. But they never seem to recognize a job well done.

Showing appreciation is vital to workplace morale.

Studies have proven that employees who feel appreciated perform better and stay with a company long-term.

6) They don’t offer any support or opportunities for growth

They clearly don’t care about your well-being.  

You don’t feel supported at work. They don’t encourage advancement or growth, in fact, they actively discourage it.

You’d love to take on more responsibility, yet your role remains the same. Your boss has made it very clear that opportunities to develop are not available to you.

7) They act differently depending on who is around

Insincerity is always quite obvious when people treat others differently depending on their so-called “status”.

Perhaps your boss is charming and kind whenever their line manager is around. Yet with their subordinates, they can be rude, snappy, and downright unreasonable.

Or maybe they play favorites at work and treat some people better than others.

8) They burden you with unfair time pressure or unrealistic expectations

One of the biggest causes of burnout is a boss who doesn’t appreciate we have limits on our time, energy, and resources.

They give you an unmanageable workload that leaves you feeling under constant pressure.

You may be asked to work to impossible deadlines. You’re expected to drop everything else in order to carry out something for your boss.

You don’t feel like your time is respected, and your work/life boundaries are constantly encroached upon.

9) They say or do inappropriate things

Unprofessional comments or behavior can present in a variety of different ways:

  • Snide remarks
  • Passive aggression
  • Cruel “jokes” at your expense
  • Fliritng or creepy compliments
  • Being very dismissive or ignoring you
  • Invading personal space

A boss that has poor emotional intellegnce or people skills may be insensitive or downright inappropriate.

They’re either clueless, or as our next sign suggests, have delusions of grandeur.

10) They make everything about themselves or take credit for other people’s good work

Bosses with a big ego may want to hog the limelight.

They mistakenly believe that being in charge is about being center stage. Really it’s about bringing out the best in others and leading.

Rather than recognize the effort of their team or individuals, they prefer to bask in glory themselves.

What to do when you have a toxic boss?

1) Drop your ego

I’m not trying to shift any blame your way, or even suggesting that you are part of the problem.

But here’s the thing:

The biggest influence any of us have is over ourselves. Our attitude is either going to give us back some of our peace of mind or make us feel even worse.

So be sure yours is doing the former and not the latter.

If you want to take the moral high ground you need to know how to manage your emotions as much as possible.

Try your hardest to distance yourself from how your boss acts. Don’t take it personally. Do your job as well as you can, and leave your ego at the door.

2) Pity them

Not taking other people’s shitty behavior personally is easier said than done. But the reality is that many toxic bosses are often insecure people lacking self-awareness.

A useful reframe to drain away some of your anger or frustration toward them can be one of pity.

See their failings as an unfortunate reflection of them and be grateful that you know better. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also take practical action…

3) Give them the benefit of the doubt and offer constructive feedback

This takes courage.

Whenever there is a hierarchy, it can feel intimidating to have honest conversations about how you feel.

Is there a chance that your boss is unaware of their actions and how they are received?

If so, then having a conversation may help. Of course, there is a right and a wrong way to do it.

Stay professional, be polite, and make sure your feedback is constructive.

4) Be clear and upfront in your communication

If a toxic boss has a habit of moving the goalposts or being vague, then you need to get them to spell out their expectations and vice versa.

Everyone should know where they stand.

For example, after a conversation, send a follow-up email laying out and pinpointing what it is they want and what you agreed upon.

5) Bolster your boundaries

It’s an unfortunate reality that sometimes people treat us the way we allow them to.

Again, this isn’t about shifting blame onto you, it’s about focusing on the power we have within our relationships.

You cannot control what your boss says and does, only how you respond.

Consider what you believe to be reasonable expectations. Start to say no to unreasonable demands.

For example:

  • I’m already swamped, so I can’t take on another project right now
  • I’d help out if I could, but I won’t be able to swap that Saturday shift as I have plans
  • I’m out of the office until Monday, so I won’t be replying to emails until then

6) Stay out of their way

If your boss is just a bit of a jerk, you can cushion yourself by staying clear of them as much as possible.

Whilst it’s not a total solution, it can be a practical one to reduce their impact on you. Keep all your dealings as professional and brief as possible.

7) Know that you are developing valuable skills

Your toxic boss is teaching you some useful life lessons.

Sure, it’s a sugar-coated spin, but see this as an opportunity in developing your own people management.

How can you grow your own communication skills, patience, resilience, and adaptability?

8) Seek other allies and support

Focus on creating nurturing connections at work that feel good.

You will need this support and there is strength in numbers. They may feel the same way about the boss as you do.

9) Keep records of any inappropriate dealings

If your boss is next-level toxic, you might want to start cataloging their behavior.

Keep a detailed record of inappropriate things they say and do, along with times and places it occurs. You may need it one day.

If you’re documenting things, avoid private one on one conversations without witnesses. Remember that emails make for better records.

10) Get help or get out

If you are in a situation that has become unmanageable you may need to take firm action.

That may involve going over your boss’s head and raising the problem with their line manager. It could be going to HR or to your union if you have one.

You may decide to start looking for another job and get the hell out of there.

After all, it’s said that most employees don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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